Working With Geo Documents in ATLAS.ti

April 30, 2017

Author: Ricardo B. Contreras

When working with ATLAS.ti 8 Windows you can incorporate geo documents into your analysis project.  By doing this, you are able to indicate specific places in the map, describe them in as much depth as desired, add pictures to the description, further explore the locations through Google Maps, and, importantly, triangulate the data with data from other sources of information (e.g., interviews, focus groups, surveys and so on).


The doors are wide open for you to think of applications of working with geo documents in your research. But I can think of two applications (fictitious cases) that might be interesting.  The first one has to do with triangulation between geo data and data collected through other methods of data collection.  The second application is in the context of participatory-action research.

Case 1: Triangulating Geo Data with Other Data

A typical application of geo documents, which I like to mention in my classes, is when an interviewee makes reference to a specific location in the interview.  The person may say something like this:

When I visited London last summer, with my wife and son, we went to Buckingham Palace, the famous Abbey Road Studios, and Hyde Park.  We really enjoyed our stay in London.

Following this, you may want to create a new geo document in ATLAS.ti and locate in that map each of the three places the interviewee visited.  Once that is done, you may want to describe those locations using the interviewee’s words but also complementing that with data from secondary sources. You may also want to enrich that description by adding photographs to it and by further exploring it through Google Maps.

Case 2: Using Geo Data in Participatory-Action Research

Another application with geo documents that could be fascinating (at least to those who appreciate this methodology) is in the context of participatory-action research.  Let’s suppose you are conducting a participatory-action research study on environmental health using interview data.  Through the analysis of the interviews you will identify locations that constitute environmental hazards in a specific neighborhood.  As you analyze the data with ATLAS.ti, you create geo documents and locate in the map the places referenced in the interviews.  Those locations are transformed into quotations (i.e., geo quotations) and coded with codes symbolizing the type of environmental hazards they represent.  Then, you show those geo quotations to the interviewees and ask them to further reflect upon their significance, now incorporating insights that might emerge from looking at the locations in the geo document.  That reflection can be written down as comments of the geo quotations.  Then, participants will create an output of the geo quotations with the associated comments and from reading that report they will write down in a memo an action plan to deal with those environmental hazards.


I will now describe the procedures involved in creating the geo document, renaming it, searching for a location, coding the locations, renaming the locations, writing comments on the geo quotations, and further exploring the geo documents through Google Maps.

Create the geo document

A. Go to Home and select Add Documents.

B. Select Add Geo Document.

C. A world map will be shown.

Create geo docs

Image 1- Adding a geo document.

Rename the geo document

You may choose to give to the geo document a name that is descriptive of what it represents.  By default, the document will be named ‘New Geo Document’ which might not be that meaningful. In this example, I renamed the document as ‘London’. To do this, do the following:

A. In the Quotation Manager, select Rename Document..

B. Write down the name of your choice.

C. Select Rename.

Image 2. Renaming the geo document.

Image 2. Renaming the geo document.

Navigate to a specific location

To do this, there are two options.  One is to search for the place and the other one is to browse to it by using the computer mouse or touch pad. To search for a place, do this:

A. Under Document, select Query Address.

B. Write down the location to where you want to navigate. It could be a specific address or the name of the location. In the example below, I typed ‘Trafalgar Square London England.’  ATLAS.ti will then show me a list of options that match my query.

C. Now, look at the map with the location signaled on it.

Image 3. Navigating to a specific location.

Image 3. Navigating to a specific location.

Create geo quotations and code them (if coding is your preference)

Once the locations are shown on the map, you may proceed to work with them the same way as you would work with data from any sources, such as an interview, a focus group transcript, a photograph or a video.  Now you can proceed to segment the geo data (i.e., the location) either by simply creating a free quotation, which means that the quotation will not be immediately coded, or by creating the quotation and immediately attaching a code to it.  In this example, I have coded the location through Open Coding using the code ‘Landmarks of London’.

To code the location through Open Coding, do as follows:

A. Under Document, select Open Coding and write down the code you want to attach to the location.

B. A quotation will be created and the code(s) attached to it.

(Alternatively to Open Coding, you may drag and drop and existing code to the location marker on the map).

Figure 4. Coding a geo quotation.

Figure 4. Coding a geo quotation.

Renaming and writing comments on the geo quotations

Once the geo quotations have been created, you may proceed to rename and describe them.  To do this, follow these steps.

A. In the Quotation Manager, select in the Navigator the code you have attached to the geo quotations (if the quotations have been coded; if not, simply select the quotations).

B. Select one quotation at a time and proceed to rename them by clicking on Rename Quotation.

C. Access the Comment editor to paste text into it or to insert images. After saving the comment, it will look like it shows in the image below.

In this example, I have renamed my geo quotations as ‘Buckingham Palace’, ‘Abbey Road Studios’ and ‘Hyde Park’.  These names are descriptive of the specific locations represented in the map.

Image 5. Renaming and commenting geo quotations.

Image 5. Renaming and commenting geo quotations.

Create a snapshot of the geo document

If you want to further explore the geo documents you have created, you may take a snapshot of them and segment and code those snapshots. See below.

Figure 6. Creating snapshot of a geo document.

Image 6. Creating a snapshot of a geo document.

Once the snapshot has been taken, a new image document will be created, which will look as the one below showing the Abbey Road Studios in London. The image can be further coded, as I did in this case using codes to represent churches, hospitals, libraries and shopping places. The image document can also be renamed the same way as I renamed the geo document. In this case, I named the image document as ‘The Abbey Road Studios Neighborhood’.

To code the snapshot, do as you would do with any other image document. Simply select a segment and either attach to it an existing code or create a new code using Open Coding.  The quotations with their codes will show on the margin area. As you select one of those quotations, the location it represents will be highlighted, the way it shows in the image below.

Figure 6. Coding the snapshot of a geo document.

Image 7. Coding the snapshot of a geo document.

Explore the location through Google Maps

Now you can further explore the location through Google Maps.  To do this, simply select Browse Geo Location under Document. That will open the geo document in Google Maps.

Figure 8. Browse geo location in Google Maps.

Image 8. Browse geo location in Google Maps.

Once in Google Maps, you will be able to further explore the geo location by browsing to street view images, looking at the location in 3 D or looking at the photographs other people have taken of those places (“Show imagery” in Google Maps) . If you want to use the Google Maps image in your analysis project, you would have to take a screenshot of it and add that screenshot as a document to your ATLAS.ti project. See below the image from Google Maps showing the neighborhood of the Abbey Road Studios in London.

Image 9. Geo location in Google Maps.

Image 9. Geo location in Google Maps.


The availability of geo documents in ATLAS.ti 8 Windows (soon also in ATLAS.ti Mac) expands the opportunities for rich qualitative data analysis.  It brings the data alive by allowing to place concepts, accounts, narratives in a spatial context.  All those researchers interested in giving their data a geographic or spatial dimension will benefit from using geo data in their analysis projects with ATLAS.ti.